Giftedness in our Classrooms: Remove the Ceiling and Give Them Room to Grow

By Sara Arnold

Kids are insightful; if you give them busy work, they immediately recognize it for what it is.  But if you engage them in authentic, real-life problem solving at high levels of challenge, they know you value and respect them.  Barbara Blackburn

I am a Talented and Gifted (TAG) Resource specialist for an urban school in Iowa.  I serve students in grades two to five with a pullout model, as well as being a gifted curriculum resource for classroom teachers.  Gifted students are gifted all day, every day.  It is our obligation to serve their academic needs consistently.

Although most gifted students can master the Common Core State Standards rapidly, many of them are falling behind.  Here are two stories of gifted students who are struggling with being gifted in their current educational setting. As educators, our job is to enhance and facilitate their educational possibilities, not limit their academic growth,

Dorothy,* a third grade student in an urban school, is academically gifted based on the results of normed-referenced assessments. She has already mastered the majority of the material covered in her classroom.  She understands multiplication and division, while fellow classmates are still working on addition and subtraction.  Negative behaviors increase.  She makes fun of other students because of their academic inabilities and tends to bully her peers.  One day while working with her, the topic of fractions came up.  She knew how to add fractions with common denominators, but when I asked her if she knew how to multiply fractions, her response was, “Oh, that’s too hard.”  Within ten minutes of instruction, she was able to multiply and divide fractions with common and uncommon denominators.  Later in the hallway, she thanked me for the instruction.  I had just quenched her thirst for academic knowledge.  
The question is how long had she been dehydrated?

Courtney* is a 5th grade academically gifted student in an urban school.  School has always been easy for her and she hasn’t had to work hard to get good grades.  As a result, she doesn’t challenge herself to learn new content.   When given the opportunity to do an independent study project, she puts forth limited effort. Because she has not been challenged in the classroom, it has led to academic underachievement.  How can we change this learned behavior?  Who is responsible for these behaviors: the student or the instructor?

Both of these stories are occurring not only in the schools I serve, but in schools all over the country.  It is our obligation to provide gifted students with appropriate academic content based on their ability level.  Gifted students need to be challenged and stimulated by an advanced and enriched curriculum that is above their current level of functioning in each area of learning (VanTassel-Baska, 2003). Many gifted students will not make academic progress during any given year unless interventions occur. (Winebrenner and Brulles, 2008)

There are many things that we can do as educators to help our gifted students feel successful in our classrooms.  Here are four ways to promote learning for all students in your classroom.

Differentiation is one way educators can provide academically appropriate content to their gifted students within their classroom. It means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs.  Teachers can differentiate content, process, or products.  It is imperative that teachers pre-assess students; this allows educators to determine the current knowledge of each student.  With the pre-assessment, teachers can then adapt their instruction based on the needs of the child.

Curriculum compacting can provide content to students over a shorter period of time.  Many gifted students can master the content only after a few exposures. Providing gifted students with a condensed version of the curriculum will expose them to the content and allow them to academically advance at an appropriate speed for their ability level.

Content acceleration is another way for gifted students to receive academically appropriate content.  Some students are academically gifted in a specific content area: math, reading, science, etc.  Teachers can give students an end of the year assessment.   If they have mastered the majority of the content, it is appropriate to provide content acceleration for the student.  For example, if a third grade student has mastered the third grade math standards, the child could go to fourth grade for their math instruction.  It is important to have a plan for future years.  Schedules and school location (elementary/middle school) can limit the feasibility of content acceleration, but this can be a successful alternative for gifted students if a well-developed plan is in place.

Grade level acceleration is a fourth possibility, if the child is gifted in multiple content areas.  Using the Iowa acceleration scale is an effective guide for teachers and parents to decide if acceleration is appropriate for the child.  In a recent interview, Joyce Van Tassel Baska stressed there is no research to prove that grade acceleration is harmful to student development.   Family and school support needs to be in place in order to provide a successful acceleration experience for the child.

Before I received my TAG endorsement, I had many misconceptions about gifted students and made mistakes as a teacher.  For example, I now know that pairing a gifted child with a low-ability student is a poor use of student time.  Some gifted students are unable to explain what their brain does automatically.  As a result, gifted students need to be paired with similar ability students.  Another important lesson I learned was that my biggest behavior challenges were high ability students who were bored. I was failing to challenge them in my classroom; I was getting in their way.

All of our students deserve to feel academic success in the classroom. If we meet the educational needs of our gifted students, we can remove their limitations and help them recognize their true potential.

* The students’ names have been changed.

Sara Arnold teaches elementary gifted and talented students in Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Public Schools. She participated in the VIVA ISEA Teachers Idea Exchange.

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Comments (4)

  1. Lynnette Rochford

    Great article, Sara Arnold! I plan to share this with my colleagues. Thanks for sharing through VIVA!

    Lynnette Rochford

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